Sunday, January 24, 2016

Phenomenological Existentialism

I was particularly interested in Tom Hemmeter's essay "Writing Programs as Phenomenological Communities" and the ways that he examines the label of "writing community" which we are often quick to assign to our writing programs. He questions the terms itself, and I think one of his main points in the essay is that a writing community doesn't automatically form just because there is a classroom full (or program full) of student writers. In his view, a community goes beyond the interest in writing or the shared experience of being in a writing course. I agree with this point, and I think the truth of it seems obvious when I think about my experiences in different classes and the effort that I have to put forth in developing a community. It isn't automatically there. From my perspective, it has a lot to do with the students' personalities and openness to each other and to the activities I have planned. It has to do with the ways that they interact with each other and their attitude as they interact.

However, Hemmeter's article focuses on the idea of community through the lens of existentialist phenemenology, which is still a bit fuzzy to me. I took away a couple of key concepts, and I'm hoping that others in the class will help me further understand his point. One important aspect of his argument is that writing communities are formed through the lived, concrete, day-to-day experiences of the participants and the work that they do. Community isn't a generalized concept or one that can be equally assigned to every writing program. It is dynamic and specific to each situation. It is also formed by the lived experiences of the participants in their daily lives outside of the university as well as within -- their whole selves. I think we often ignore these realities as we generalize student writers and writing communities, which doesn't produce an accurate picture. Another concept he discusses is the idea of struggle. We form communities not only by recognizing the things that make us similar but also the things that make us different. The act of trying to negotiate these differences through dialogue is one way community is formed. He says, "We, as teachers, engage students, one by one, as an Other — expecting the same engagement from them — trying in concrete encounters between selves to locate common ground in communication experiences, efforts opening us to respect challengingly different perspectives and to expand our own."

I found this reading to be challenging and interesting, and I'm interested in thinking more about ways that an expanded definition of a writing community can help us develop one.

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